Back to July, 2002 Archive Index



June 14, 2002 - Sexual health...


July 12, 2002 - In the bones of the world (Part six)
July 19, 2002 - In the bones of the world (Part seven)
July 26, 2002 - In the bones of the world (Part eight)


June 14, 2002

Sexual health...

Keep talking

After discussing chlamydia, HIV, gonorrhea, hepatitis, warts, syphilis, trichomoniasis and scabies, it should be clear that the consequences of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) range from an annoying itch to certain death.

STD prevention is all about understanding risks and knowing how to minimize them.

If you choose to be sexually active, use condoms and limit the number of partners you are with. We can all do the math — fewer bodies coming together means less risk of infection. Condoms alone may not be sufficient to prevent pregnancy.

While sex is natural and should be fun — it comes with responsibility. The mechanics of sex are simple, but the consequences, both physical (pregnancy and infection) and emotional, can be enormous and complex.

The most difficult lessons both to teach and to learn about sexuality are not about how the pill works or how to know you get an STD. They are about how to have healthy relationships. The soft skills — communication in an atmosphere of trust, desire and goodwill between partners — are a lifetime challenge.

Believe it or not, most of what sex is about happens above the shoulders. Our brains are there to receive and process all the physical messages we get from touch, the words we hear and the "chemistry" between partners in intimate relationships.

Canadian youth in the North and all over the country are exploring sex when they are still very young. Health Canada says the average age when kids start to be sexually active is now below age 13.

In any sexual encounter, consent is essential - both people need to be involved willingly. Early sexual experiences — good or bad - shape a young person’s ability to have healthy relationships for years to come.

Children learn how to relate to one another by observing the behaviour around them. Commodification of sex by the mainstream media does little to help kids figure out the ways of the world.

We can all work to let youth exercise their rights: control over their own bodies and access to information, birth control and health care. Parents, educators and health-care workers can teach that sexuality is a part of all of humanity — something to be embraced, enjoyed and respected, rather than feel guilty or uninformed about.

I’ve been told that it is not the Inuit way to speak or write openly about sex — the truth is, it’s not the qallunaat way either.

I have written as a physician concerned about the health of young Nunavummiut. Young people in the South have also been failed by a system that does not provide good education about healthy sexuality. I hope these columns have got people talking.

Thanks for the e-mails and to the young folks who have begun to take better care of their bodies. I am particularly appreciative of the feedback from older Inuit women — thank you for your teachings. Indeed, we need to know more about Inuit-specific beliefs about sexuality.

Soon we hope to have the birth of a new biweekly column written by different health-care professionals covering a range of health-related topics. But it’s always fun to think about sexuality — so I will slip in a contribution now and again.

While there is much to know about healthy sexuality, understanding birth control options and how to prevent sexually transmitted diseases is an essential start. Thanks for reading.

We hope to put together a booklet based on the columns written over the past six months.

If there are other sex ed topics you think should be included, please send an

e-mail with your suggestions to

Want to read past Sex Ed columns? Go to and click on columns.

Madeleine Cole is a physician at Baffin Reginal Hospital.



July 12, 2002

In the bones of the world (Part six)

Imagine that you live in an orphanage, where your only friend is your cousin, who is the same age as yourself. As very young children, you do everything together, and form the only family you know.

But the years roll by, and you are eventually adopted. So is your cousin — but by a different family.

So you are separated. You each move to different areas, grow up with unique ideals and lifestyles. In time, you forget that the other ever existed. Your years together are lost in the fog of infancy.

Soon, you are a grown adult. You are a professional, settled in your ways. You are highly educated, well-groomed, conservative. It’s time to put down roots, and you buy a home in a neighbourhood you like.

Your cousin is also growing — but in a completely different way. He drops out of school and takes up body-building. He becomes a labourer, earning just enough to support his non-stop, party-all-night lifestyle.

By chance, that new home you bought happens to be right next to your long-lost cousin’s house, and you are now neighbours. Cruel years have taken their toll on both of you, and you fail to recognize each other in the slightest. Even worse, your radically different lifestyles result in friction. You are not quite enemies, but you annoy one another intensely. You begin to refer to each other as, "that kind." He throws garbage onto your property to bother you, and you get him back by calling the police when he parties too loudly.

Eventually, your neighbour’s lack of means catch up with him. Mounting health problems sap his funds, he can’t make his house payments, and the bank forecloses on him. He moves on. The ramshackle house is torn down for use as a lot, and your neighbour fades from memory. In time, he is no more than an amusing story to relate to your friends.

Neither he, nor you, ever realized that you were cousins.

The story above describes the relationship between Inuit and Tunit. It is interesting that Inuit tradition has always referred to the Tunit as a separate people — to be completely honest, a separate species altogether, when in fact there is a great deal of archaeological evidence to demonstrate that Inuit and Tunit derive from the same root culture.

As most things end up going in the Arctic, the story of Inuit and Tunit is one of east versus west. If we go back in time about five millennia, we find a semi-Asiatic culture known as the "Arctic Small Tool tradition," which had spread itself out over Alaska, Arctic Canada, and Greenland. These people are not well-known, and they are named for the tiny blades they used to make (which, if you look at photos of them, are remarkably well-crafted).

Due to the different environments found in east and west, the small-tool people began to develop along those lines. Within two millennia, the westerners were developing into the so-called "Norton" culture, while the easterners were developing into the "Dorset" culture.

About 2,000 years ago, the westerners — the Norton culture — began to radically change once again. The Arctic, at the time, was undergoing nasty temperature shifts toward a cold extreme, and the westerners began to adapt to the change in their environment by mastering the ability to hunt sea mammals — that very ability that so marks much of Inuit skill today.

The Norton-culture-changed-sea-mammal-hunters are known as the "Thule" culture.

By any standard, the Thule were an astoundingly resourceful people, and some of their innovations included snow houses, drag floats, watercraft both large and small, toggling harpoons, and the use of dogs to pull sleds. They were to northern culture what Albert Einstein was to physics — a revolution in the Arctic way of life.

The success of the Thule allowed them to spread themselves out, travelling great distances by dog or boat to bring in terrific hauls of sea mammal prey. As a result, they moved eastward, settling into lands already occupied by the Dorset people — their forgotten cousins.

And by that time, the Dorset and Thule peoples had developed in such completely different ways that each was barely recognizable as human by the other.

(Continued next week.)


July 19, 2002

In the bones of the world (Part seven)

When the Thule, successful sea-mammal hunters that they were, moved into the lands occupied by their Dorset cousins, they found that those people lived a very different existence. The Dorset culture was, by Thule standards, quite primitive.

Over the centuries, the Thule who settled in Dorset lands gradually developed the customs and dialects that we today know as pre-colonial Inuktitut. In essence, they became Inuit.

The Dorset people pretty much stayed Dorset, but Inuit called them "Tunit." The actual "Dorset" term was coined by the anthropologist Diamond Jenness (who, in my opinion, is to be most commended for his extraordinary collections of traditional string figures, some of which have been lost to modern Inuit).

In 1925, Jenness received some odd artifacts from Kingait — odd because they seemed to derive from an especially ancient lifestyle, unlike that of Inuit. Because Kingait was called "Cape Dorset" at the time, Jenness called the mysterious people that produced the artifacts the "Dorset" culture, and the hunt to find more evidence of this people has been on ever since.

If you stop to think about it, you might notice a peculiar irony here. Inuit have fought so many political battles over that one word: "traditional."

And yet, in the story of Inuit meeting Tunit, west meeting east, it is the Tunit who are most "traditional."

It is the Thule — the Inuit — who are the younger, innovative culture here; the developers of cutting-edge ideas and technologies. It is they who pioneer a new homeland in another people’s traditional lands.

The Thule may have become Inuit, but the Dorset people — the Tunit — never became much of anything, because they went extinct. The reasons for the Tunit extinction is unclear. It has been suggested that the Tunit (I’m going to stick with the Inuktitut term) simply starved to death due to their own inefficiency, but this idea is absurd.

The Tunit way of life was undoubtedly very harsh, since they seemed to have lacked dogs, toggles, boats and other technologies that make life easier, but their culture nevertheless persisted for many, many centuries. They thrived.

It seems most likely that the Tunit, once they had lived among Inuit for a time, simply began to recognize a good thing. Inuit were able to demonstrate a great deal of success with their sea-mammal hunting lifestyle. Hunger is hunger and meat is meat, and the Tunit probably began to recognize that they could subsist better by adopting some of the Inuit hunting strategies and technologies.

As technology changes, culture changes with it. I recall a paper written by an anthropologist living among some islander tribesmen in Southeast Asia — he was lamenting that they were always trying to get mosquito netting from him.

The tribesmen traditionally lived in elevated bungalows, above the height that most mosquitoes fly, but these people recognized that netting would work better. They were beginning to feel the anthropologist was being stingy, and many were withholding anthropological information in order to pry the netting out of him.

But the anthropologist had this problem: if he gave them their netting, they would no longer find it necessary to build traditional bungalows. In other words, by giving them what they wanted, even such a trifle as mosquito netting, he would irreparably alter their culture.

I find it likely that Tunit did indeed adopt some aspects of Inuit culture, causing them to change with time, to become more and more like Inuit. As they began to enjoy the benefits of "Thule" cultural innovations, they essentially became assimilated into Inuit culture.

A change in culture is rarely a rapid one. The Tunit would have had their own dialects and ways, those that they clung to even after the "Inuit revolution." This would have kept them culturally distinct from Inuit for some time, but the Dorset cultural distinctness was probably beginning to fade from the time that it met the Thule. Probably, neither Tunit nor Inuit ever noticed this happening, not even when the process became impossible to reverse.

Would Inuit have even cared? It is possible that many of the Tunit themselves did not care, embracing the Inuit lifestyle until the end; until those last few Tunit wept when they could no longer remember the old songs sung by their great-grandparents.

(Continued next week.)


July 26, 2002

In the bones of the world (Part eight)

In 1824, the HMS Griper, under Captain G.F. Lyon, anchored off Cape Pembroke. The Cape was part of Coats Island, which is situated in the northernmost portion of Hudson Bay.

According to Lyon, the Griper was soon approached by a man riding a vessel composed of three inflated sealskins, held together by intestines, with a piece of whalebone fashioned as a paddle. The strange man was at once fearful and curious. Dealings with him led Lyon to go ashore, intrigued by this peculiar people, of, "...mild manners, quiet speech, and as grateful for kindness, as they were anxious to return it."

The women, by his account, wore their hair twisted into a short club, hanging over each temple. They were tattooed. The men wore a huge ball of hair (" large as the head of a child...") upon their forehead. They also wore murr-skin mitts, and polar-bear pants (the latter, as the northwest Greenlandic Inussuit people do, incidentally).

These people were known as the Sadlermiut, and they have left many of their stone cairns, houses, and graves upon Coats Island — having favoured angular shapes in their architecture. It seems that isolation upon their island had preserved their culture, an Arctic tradition far more ancient than any of those previously encountered by occidentals.

Unfortunately, the Sadlermiut have to be spoken of in the past tense, because they died out in the early part of the 20th century.

Traffic between these mysterious people and sailors seems to have been friendly, and there even exist writings from late 19th century whalers, applauding the bravery and strength of Sadlermiut hunters. Disease, as usual, is the villain here. From the time of contact, it whittled away at the Sadlermiut population, until by 1896 it was noted that only 70 of them remained.

The ultimate fate of the Sadlermiut is well known. In the fall of 1902, some of them visited a ship — the Active, a whaling vessel — that had made its stop at Southampton Island, a short distance to the northwest of Coats. They brought something back with them, something they had caught from a sick sailor aboard the Active: a disease that spread like a grease-fire, dealing its victims agony and death. Whether it was typhoid or typhus, by the time winter was upon Coats, the isle was silent and dead. As a people, the Sadlermiut were extinct.

The extinction of the Sadlermiut is a loss beyond the level of similar mass starvations or plague outbreaks, since it represents not only the death of a population, but of a people — an entire ethnicity. And the loss cuts even deeper with the realization that the Sadlermiut culture could have offered the rest of us a glimpse into the prehistoric past, into the Stone Age itself. It is a blow to the human race — to the very sciences based around its study.

For in 1954, Henry B. Collins was to speak of the, "largest aggregation of old Eskimo house ruins in the Canadian Arctic." These he found at Native Point on Southampton Island, while working with the Smithsonian Institution. He determined that these ruins were characteristic of Sadlermiut culture, an indication that the Sadlermiut had once been quite numerous, and had long ago dwelled in lands other than Coats Island.

Throughout 1954 and ‘55, Collins studied the house ruins upon both islands, leading him to a discovery both startling and tragic in nature. He finally stated that he had, "found evidence that the Sadlermiut descended from the Dorsets — that they were in fact the last survivors of the Dorset culture."

And if these had indeed been the last descendants of the Dorset culture, then they had also been the last of the Tunit.

To think, they had really been there — breathing the very air that our great-grandparents breathed — those people whose ancestors had seen the coming of the Thule, of those who would be the first to call themselves Inuit.

The death of these last Tunit truly leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, and yet it cannot dull my euphoria at the thought of this meeting of myth and fact. For such records of existent Tunit, living as recently as our last century, serves to bolster the credibility of Inuit folklore. It proves that Inuit have always known their world well — and forget nothing.

(Concluded next week.)